Published on Sunday, July 20, 2003 by the Boston Globe
Gephardt, in N.H., takes aim at Bush - 'Worst President I've Served With,' He Tells Gathering
by Glen Johnson
DURHAM, N. H. -- President Bush has so mishandled the economy and foreign affairs, Representative Richard A. Gephardt said yesterday, that the Democratic presidential contender said he was nostalgic for the return of Republicans Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon.
During a house party at the start of two days of campaigning across the nation's first presidential primary state, the Missouri congressman lashed out at Bush over economic and foreign policy, as well as what he said was a lack of delivery on promises to improve homeland security.
''Democrats get economics -- and we proved it during the Clinton years,'' Gephardt said to a crowd of about 70 Democrats gathered in the home of Katie Wheeler, a party activist and former state senator, and her husband, Doug. ''In 24 months, this president has darn-near wrecked the economy.''
Gephardt cited the nation's 6.4 percent unemployment rate and ballooning federal budget deficits, which the White House said last week had grown to $455 billion, as evidence that Bush's reliance on tax cuts is not restoring the nation's economy, which started a slow decline at the end of President Clinton's second term.
''It doesn't work,'' Gephardt said. ''We proved it didn't work in the '80s.''
During a fund-raiser on Friday in Dallas, Bush refused to answer his Democratic critics, saying, ''The political season will come in its own time.'' A spokesman for the Republican National Committee responded yesterday to Gephardt's remarks by criticizing the candidate's House attendance record.
''There should have been a big celebration either yesterday or today, because Dick Gephardt hit the 90 percent mark on missed votes in Congress'' for the year, said Jim Dyke, the committee's communications director. ''I would think the people in his district are nostalgic for their congressman.''
Gephardt favors a repeal of the tax cuts enacted since Bush took office in January 2001. Instead, he would use the tax revenues to provide universal health care coverage, which he said would indirectly spur economic growth, and for social programs such as repaying student loans for people who agree to teach for five years.
The congressman also lambasted Bush for not better equipping police officers and firefighters, who would be the first to respond to a terrorist attack, and for not getting at the root of anti-American terrorism by addressing fundamentalist teachings in Middle Eastern countries. Gephardt said that while he served as the House Democratic leader, he urged Bush on three occasions to build a broad international coalition before attacking Iraq, in part to spread the cost of an invasion, in part to reduce the risk to American troops. Gephardt voted for the congressional resolution authorizing military action in Iraq.
''This is a dangerous, difficult world we live in, and this president, . . . he is not up to the job,'' Gephardt said. ''He doesn't have the knowledge and the information that he ought to have, and he's not listening to the right people who do have the knowledge and information, and he's not curious to find the answers that we need to keep you safe.''
Following his stop in Durham, Gephardt and his wife, Jane, boarded a mobile home recently bought by one of their chief New Hampshire supporters, lobbyist Jim Demers, for visits to Conway, Berlin, and Laconia. Today he will start with visits to three Manchester diners, before attending two house parties and a picnic in Nashua. Tonight he will throw out the first pitch at the Nashua Pride minor league baseball game.
Gephardt's visit to the Wheelers got off to a raucous start when Katie Wheeler criticized Bush, saying, ''I don't think we've ever had a worse president.''
Gephardt said, ''I agree that George Bush is the worst president I have ever served with. I have served with five. I'm nostalgic for Reagan these days . . . I might even be nostalgic for Nixon.'' When the audience laughed, Gephardt said he was only partly kidding. He has served in the House for 26 years.
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